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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More "terms"

A very clever reader sent in more terms to add to our list. 
Current terms:  e-rider, BBs
Proposed terms:
"When your boss hands you a huge, ridiculous, overwhelming task – just take a deep breath and consider it an OTS = Opportunity To Shine!"
  • My gosh this is SO applicable to endurance!  When you wake up and it's rainy, and your horse is grumpy, and you fell in the mud AGAIN, consider it an OTS!  When half way through a 50 your reins disintegrate, it starts raining, AND you just got whacked in the eye with a very wet flower laden shrub - consider it an OTS!
"..when someone makes a terrible choice in behavior or actions at work he likes to call them CED's = Career Ending Decisions."
  • This too is very applicable!  Instead of "CED's", let's refer to them as "RED's" (Ride ending decisions).  This could involve you choice to use a brand new pair of tights before a 100.  Or a last minute saddle switch.  Or a change in electrolytes, or not eating for the entire ride....
I think the test for whether a term is suitable for the blog is whether it will make ride reports more entertaining (or at least, "funner" to write - yes I know "funner" isn't a word). 
Test ride story:
At today's ride I had a total of 5 OTS moments and only 3 decisions that *almost* were RED's.  This is a vast improvement over my last ride (5 OTS and 5 almost REDs), but enough to keep the ride interesting (my gosh - do you remember that ride where NOTHING happened?  That's hardly endurance!)
Yep, I think they work. 
Anyone got any more?



Make your day count

I've reviewed my posts for the last week and have come to a very important conclusion.
I am posting complete and utter *crap*.
Wordy, long winded, overly opinionated, and poor creative construction.
What happened to my thoughtful, well written posts?  Posts that I was proud of?
So apparently it's impossible to write creatively when your job is sucking away your life's blood (ie - creative writing ideas).  I have a couple of HUGE audits coming up, there isn't enough time to get everything done.
As work pays the bills and this blog does not....I guess that is a sacrifice I'm willing to make. 
Have I mentioned I have a 50 miler in 10 days?  I know - I'm as surprised as you.  Already 6 weeks since our 100?  Really?  I'm not terribly excited since it's *just* a 50 miler (and that *just* mind set is going to get me in a LOT of trouble if I don't get my act together!) and have a terrible feeling that it's going rain.  I already have a plan if it rains - don't go.  I'll go to American River instead.  Yes, I'll lose the entry fee for Buck Meadows, but honestly, I would PAY someone not to have to do another rainy ride so soon after that rainy 100....
Yes, all you people like AareneX who deal with rain on a daily basis can squawk like chickens at me.  I'm. Tired. Of. Being. Wet.  and cold.  and miserable. and chafed.
Today's topic concerns how you are a *e-rider even when you aren't riding....
**e-rider = endurance rider.  It's my new favorite term, right next to BBs (blog buddies).  I really should start a "terms list" on the sidebar.
How do you prepare your body during your normal, daily activities to ride well (balanced, centered, calm, focused)? 
In comparison to the total hours in a day, we spend very little time in the saddle.  Our habits during the day can influence how productive our saddle time is. 
  • There's the obvious - nutrition and exercise. 
  • I want to talk about the less obvious - being centered and balanced.
While riding I want my weight to be even and centered.  I want to be balanced in the saddle.  During my warm up I have a check list (heavily influenced by the concepts of Centered Riding)
  • Are my "blocks" in line? (head, hips, heels.  My head has a tendency to thrust forward)
  • Does one leg feel tighter than the other?
  • Can I feel both seat bones equally?
  • Is my lower back straight?
  • Am I breathing through my stomach and into my lower back?
  • Are my arms hanging from the shoulders
  • Is there equal pressure in the stirrups?
This week I started using this check list while doing other activities and what I found was very disturbing - Other than my riding time, I spend VERY LITTLE time being "balanced".  I'm really focusing on spending more time in my daily life "balanced", hoping that it transfers to my saddle time.  Here's a partial list of what I'm working on.
At work
  • I put my computer (lap top) up on a product box to bring the screen on level with my face so my head can be in a neutral position with my shoulders and hips.
  • I raised my chair so that my forearms, shoulders, and wrists are in alignments
  • I am buying a new chair (and foot rest) so that I do not have to be perched on the edge of the chair in order for my feed to reach the ground AND my back can be against the back of the chair, AND has no arms so my chair actually fits under my desk.  I think a lot of my problems will be solved by getting a new chair.  Right now it's IMPOSSIBLE for me to actually sit at my desk without crossing my legs or putting a leg underneath of me.  My feet don't reach the ground and I have to lean too far back and as a result my shoulders and back are ALWAYS tense.
  • When I stand up to talk to someone, I focus on keeping equal weight in my feet and not slouching
While walking
  • Keeping my body in a neutral position, breathing through my stomach.
While biking
  • Making sure that equal weight is in the seat bones
  • I'm pushing each pedal with equal force
  • When shifting, I'm not causing the up or down shift to ALWAYS correspond with the same side of my pedal movement
  • Keeping my shoulders down and relaxed.
Anyone else?  I've already noticed I have less back pain this week than "normal".

Monday, March 29, 2010

More on the Canter

The Canter/Trot transitions continue to get better and better (both up and down transitions).  It certaintly isn't a logical, linear progression - instead we leap and bound up to our next platueu, where we sit FOREVER and then it's upward and onward again (eventually).
It seems like the whole "canter transitioning thing" is a common enough problem that I thought I would post bit on my progress.  I know this is a bit long and disorganized, but hopefully those of you that are having similar problems can pick out something that might be helpful?
Wednesday's lesson I started to prep for my training level tests that I'm planning to do in early May at a recognized USDF show.  I'm a bit tense because ALL of the work we are doing is training level ready except for.....our canter transitions.  Even our actual canter is coming along, but the transition is just not there.  I really really REALLY want to show training level at this show so I came out of the lesson determined to perfect our canter.  Here's a slice of our journey this week.
On Thursday I gave Farley the day off, indulged in free food and DID NOT THINK ABOUT CANTERING.
The Importance of Visualization
On Friday morning I wrote the following e-mail to my trainer:
"Remember when you told me to visualize an orange popsicule?  I got to thinking about visualization and wondered if it might help me to stop the canter transition anxiety that is causing me to not support Farley 100% in the transition and within the canter gait.  I'm tense, so she's tense, so I yell at her to relax, and she fusses, and it generally just falls apart with me over correcting and not staying "zen" and "centered" enough. 
So here's my visualization trick - I will imagine a humongous oak tree.  On top of a green grassy hill.  It's peaceful, it's stable, and a happy place for me and Farley.  When warming up around the ring, I will be sitting under my tree.  When I am transitioning into the canter I will be sitting under my tree.  When I am working with the canter, I will be sitting under my tree.  If I need extra "cooling", I will be eating an orange creamsicle popsicule (on a plastic stick because wooden sticks make chills go down my spine) underneath my tree. 
Sometimes I feel like me and Farley are married.  We make eachother so very happy and we have this great, deep relationship.  We also can drive eachother nuts and we are so sensitive to what the other is feeling.  She wants to please me SO BAD, and I want her to be happy and enjoy her job.  Of course, the difference from a real marriage is that I'm the human and it's my job to make her feel safe and valued and since she's a horse and responding to me, she can't normally be held responsible since she's reflecting me.
See - I over-analyze EVERYTHING.  I'm just not happy with the frusteration I'm feeling and I'm passing onto to Farley so I'm thinking of different ways I can keep centered and support her through the whole cantering thing. 
I just KNOW once it clicks, we will be stronger partners for working through this issue and we can approach our next "dressage issue" with confidence that we will work through that too! 

OK - I'll stop rambling now."
The Importance of Transitions
Friday afternoon, armed with a new found dedication to centerness, calmness, and a sure-to-give-me-patience-song-list uploaded on the ipod I was ready for ANYTHING. 
After a nice, LONG walking warm up....
Digression - I've really started to take my time and walk for 15-20 minutes before starting work, focusing on my position, whether I feel centered etc.  The centered riding lesson I took really gave me something think about and those 15-20 minutes of warm up.  This is where I focus on the concepts of centered riding.
I start with canter transitions from a walk. 
This was a trick I learned from Becky Hart during the centered riding lesson.  At the walk I can be very centered and very clear in my cues and Farley is so much more relaxed since it doesn't carry all that "baggage" from our trot/canter transition. 
Once I was getting some good transitions from the walk (she was trotting some steps, but overall relaxed, correct lead, not rushing etc.) I went from the canter to the trot for 2-4 strides and then asked for the canter from that trot.
After a few times of successfully doing this, I started asking for a trot down transition every 5-6 canter strides, and then after trotting 2-4 steps, asked for canter again.
It was amazing.  The more transitions I did, the more uphill and relaxed the transition became!  I think my mistake has been not EMBRACING the transition and doing lots and lots and lots of them.  Instead I would do lots and lots of set up into the transition....get a crappy transition and then continue cantering for a while and then ask for another transition sometime later. 
This is one of the few training sessions that we've done at a canter that didn't end with one/both of us feeling frusterated and grumpy.
Saturday - Farley got a day off and I went hiking (8 miles round trip to Marble falls in the Sequoia National Park.  Amazing!).  I couldn't stop thinking (and talking) about the wonderful ride I had on Friday. 
The Importance of Half halts
Sunday - I didn't want to do the same thing I did on I decided to work on half-halts.  I don't work half-halts often enough, and I don't use half-halts enough in my work.  We worked at a walk first, then a trot, and finally a canter.  The time I took to work on half halts at the trot/walk transitions really paid off in the canter.  It wasn't as immediate as the transition work, but by the end, she was softer and not bracing as much in the transition.
The Importance of Time Off
Monday (today) - I schooled the canter a bit more than maybe I should have yesterday, so the plan today is a nice quiet 3-5 mile hand jog on the canals, and let the work of the past couple of days settle in both of our minds.  The plan is to sharpen up the work a bit tomorrow (Tuesday) and have nice, balanced picture to show my trainer on Wednesday.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Endurance Challenge

This came from the Endurance Granny blog (see my sidebar).  Whew.  This is tough. 
The Endurance Challenge Game

Rules: It's harder than it looks!

Use the 1st letter of your last name to answer each of the following
questions. They have to be real places, names, things,
nothing made up. Use different answers if the person in front
of you had the same 1st initial. Have Fun!!
Following the rules answer these questions: copy and paste into a reply with your answers.

1. What is the first letter of your last name ______F___________? (now use the first letter to begin the answer to each)

2. Name an AERC Endurance Arabian:
Uggg.  To bad Forta (whom my girl is related to - thus "Triforta") is a famous race horse and not an endurance one!
My first choice was "Fullov Attitude" but unfortunately he only completed 1 LD ride.  I wanted something a bit more...spactacular.
So instead we will take a look at "Fuschia Bunny".  How cute!  She started competing the year I was born and ended her career with a finish at the Tevis cup.  Way to go!

3. A color of biothane tack:
Fuschia isn't a biothane color (yet) but it is a color...Does that count?

4. A known brand endurance saddle:
It would be so much easier to make up a brand....such as "Fantasy Comfort Endurance Saddles".  Doesn't that sound good?
After some googling this is what I found:
Fabtron (a company I've never heard of) makes an endurance saddle that at least one person at found to be absolutely fabulous.

5. The name of an Endurance ride:
Fire Mountain is (kinda) local, but "Far Out Forest" has GOT to be the most entertaining of the "F" names for rides occuring in 2010.

6. A horse feed:
"First Thunder Feeds" sold in Canada

7. A well known Endurance rider in your or other region:
(again AERC record)
Beth Felton and her Jr. Daughter who won the easy boot contest (or at least placed very high - can't remember exactly) AND I think she placed in the national Jr. AERC year end standings.  She was also one of the helpful people I met at my very first ride.  I see them every year and they are fabulous people.
Also Pat Fitzgerald.  Hall of fame recipient in 1976 (only second year it was awarded).  This is the ONLY hall of fame recipient that has a last or first name starting with F.....He had over 11,000 miles, with his last races occuring in 1986 - which were 2 100's (Tevis and Virginia City). 

8. Something to drink while racing down the trail
How about "fear-not juice".  I'm thinking my juice would be tequilia....

9. Something to eat at the awards banquet
Fig newtons.  Mmmmm....

10. Something you pray never happens:
Fistula of the wither.  Sounds awful.

11.Something you hope will:
First year vet student! 

12. Something you might say to the vet:
"Find anything?"

13. Something you shout at the start of a ride:
"Foolish mare!  Don't you know this is a 100?"

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yet another....

I am now up to three helmets.
That's right - THREE. 
*shakes head*
Today was a wonderful day that came with a bonus, a pay raise, and the selling off of the last of my college fencing gear.
Now, don't get any ideas.  I DO live in California.  Which means that 50% of that bonus went straight to the government AND my pay "raise" just makes up for the tax increases I've seen in the last 12 months AND here's hoping I did NOT move up a tax bracket as I'm single and living in an apartment (can anyone say ZERO deductions???)  *sigh* 
So after asking myself the following questions..
A millionaire yet?  Nope
Big name sponsor who's going to pay all my horse fees?  Nope
Benevolent donor who's paying my ride fees?  Nope
Magically richer by $100,000 to pay for school in 2011? Nope (only 16 months away!!!!  Can you believe it??) 
Can pay off my truck loan?  Nope
Can pay off my student loan?  Nope
Move out of my 1 bedroom apartment? Nope
Quit my job and play hooky for 3 months while riding the XP trail in 2011? Nope
...I have determined I am still a struggling middle-class citizen who must still put her pants on one leg at a time and it's time to figure out how to pay for my rides, shows and horsey addiction in general for the 2010 season.
I use my bonuses for ride fees.  If I get a bigger bonus, I get to go to more rides.  Less of a bonus mean less rides.  It looks like I'm on track to do my 3 day ride in May, Tevis, and the Virginia City 100.  Whoo hoo!  The rest of it I'll have to play by ear.
Time to move onto dressage.....I need breeches, a jacket, and a show helmet.  These are the items that are really hard to borrow.  The $200 from my fencing gear seems perfectly suitable for this application.  I can get 2 out of the 3 necessary items.  I cornered my trainer for advice, who reminded me that I have a punch card for the local tack shop, that once I punch out will allow me to get 40% off any one item......mmmm.....Breeches+helmet+cheap show shirt = a full punch card = 40% off a dressage jacket (which as some of you know is a BIG deal as even the cheap ones are in the $200 range!).  I'll be slightly over budget ($200), but will be totally worth it as I will save at least $100 on the jacket.  After doing some quick and dirty calculations I figure out that buying all my required dressage equipment using the punch card + discount will cost me one endurance ride out of the bonus fund......a price I'm willing to pay. 
Filling the punch card
First on my list is breeches.  This is easy and fortunately, I'm a cheap date.  Cotton Naturals are the only way for this shapely woman and lucky me - they run ~$50/pair.  Even better, they've updated the sizing and fit from my 10-15 year old hand me downs and now, I can get the correct waist (28) with enough room in the thighs and butt! (used to have to wear a 30 to have this luxury.)  Of course, Local Tack Shop doesn't carry WHITE Cotton Naturals so they have to order.  *sigh*
Next on the list is helmet.  My current 2 helmets could not be more UNACCEPTABLE for showing.  *shakes head*.    I loved loved LOVED my old version Troxel Duratec Dakota before they put the dreaded dial a fit in it.  Troxel has evidentally fallen in love with the dreaded dial, as ALL their helmets now have this "system", except the schooling cheapie.  Have I ranted and raved on this blog yet, how I hate dial-a-fits?  How they fit everyone and no one at the same time?  But I digress.  So I have had to find alternatives.  Unfortunately there isn't anything I have loved so well as that old Dakota..... 
For every day riding I have a troxel sport which is great - light, cool, and fits me perfectly.  In fact, this was also the model of my very first helmet and only I forsake it when I fell in love with the Dakota.  As an added bonus, it's cheap price of 30 bucks means I'm not bashful about replacing it if I have a questionable fall in it.  Its flaw for endurance riding is it's lack of ear cut outs (wearing with sunglasses for longer than a couple of hours rubs the tops of my ears).  Its flaw for dressage is its ever-so bright white, plastic cover that no helmet cover really disguises....
I have the updated model of the Tipperary for endurance conditioning and rides.  Fits perfectly, doesn't rub, but unfortunately is a bit hotter and heavier than the troxel, not to mention a bigger price tag if I take a fall.  Not at ALL dressagey.....but a great endurance helmet.  If I could only have one helmet, obviously this would be the one, but's its nice to have the 30 dollar cheapie take the beating instead of the tipperary.....
My choices are limited for a show helmet, especially as I'm interested in cheap.....troxel ones have the dreaded dial a fit, IRH do NOT fit my oval head, so a Charles Owen JR8 in all black is the right choice.  Wow!  talk about perfect fit....and at the same price I would have paid for a troxel etc.!  I find a small flaw and The Local Tack Shop knocks 10% off the price.  Score!
Digression - I'm seriously in love with my new CO helmet....I'm committed to wearing it for shows, lessons, and clinics.  I'll continue to wear the troxel for doing stupid stuff - like firing pistols and driving out of control 4 up wagon teams......but I'm not sure I'll be replacing the troxel once it dies.....between the tipperary and the CO I think I have my helmet needs covered! 
I'm a little short on the punch card so I peruse the show shirt rack.  Ah Ha!  A cheapie but a goodie.  Sure the collar is a bit tight, but as long as it's not actually choking me it's all good right?  A short sleeve, white show shirt is added onto the pile.
Hallelujah we have a full punch card!!!!!
Time to pick out that jacket for a cool 40% off.  They have exactly 5 dressage 2 styles.  Crap.  For the whole punch card thingy to work I can't special order.  I'm looking for a size 10. Last weekend during a tack store visit (with a very patient non-horsey boyfriend) I tried on a Pikeur size 10 and fit PERFECTLY. Unfortunately the $500 price tag was not so perfect.  I don't see a size 10 here.  Crap.  There's a 12R and a 14T and a 18R.  And then 2 more coats with velvet collars and gold piping that you could not PAY me to wear.  The sales girl says that this brand tends to fit small.  Really?  Just possibly?....I slip on the 12R and we have a winner!!!!  Shoulders and sleeves and length are perfect.  Waist could be tucked in a bit, but honestly I'm starting to gain a little around the middle (that middle age creeping in... *ducking to avoid the tomatoes thrown by you "old people" in your 30s*....) so maybe it's not a bad thing.
So thus went the story of Melinda acquiring a dressage outfit on a budget, without breaking the bank, and still having enough left over to actually GO to rides this year.  Ramen is still on the menu, but I won't actually have to play fiddle on the street corners for extra cash (I think).
Digression - Shopping excursions like remind me how so very grateful I am to have one horse and a sound one at that!  I loved Minx dearly, but she cost me an arm and a leg in lameness diagnostics while she was alive.  How nice to spend less money and have cool stuff, instead of a lame horse and a set of ultrasounds?  I think of this "gear" as my reward for good management and good luck that have resulted in very low vet bills over the last year.  Whoo hoo!

When the going gets tough....stick with endurance

Crysta had a very good point on my previous post about First Rides.  I failed to point out the positive and uplifting things that are a part of endurance.
I guess I glossed over the positives since I think *most* of us got into endurance because of those ideas...and I assumed we all understood why endurance is so magical.  I tried to address the reality of the first ride - and that is that endurance is hard.  As someone who had their sights set on 100's and was only using 50's as a stepping stone, my biggest surprise was just how HARD the whole thing was - from start to finish.  Even after I decided I needed to finish some LD's to restore my confidence that this was DOABLE, I still found it HARD.  My first season I was kinda casual about the 50 mile distance, because it was "just" 50 miles (remember - 100's were my goal).  After that disastrous first season, my motto throughout my second season was "respect the distance"
That being said, it does no harm to reiterate what we all know - that endurance is THE horse sport.  (I'm just a bit biased...) :)
  • That "magical" bond between rider and horse.  I'm not a particularly emotional person.  I've gotten good at faking socially correct emotions as not to be labeled as "potential serial killer", but when it comes right down to it I can be a bit... hard.  Picturing Minx's effort at the end of our first, disastrous 50, or thinking about Farley's first 100 mile completion brings tears to my eyes.  It was a YEAR after the 50 before I could accurately describe the 50 without bursting into tears.  Horse and rider are so in tune to each other, it's magic.  We are equals (even though I STILL get the final say on speed :) ).   


  • YOU and your HORSE are ATHLETES.  After years of hating my body because I didn't feel like I was "athletic" enough, I absolutely thrive on the knowledge that my itty bitty arab and my big ol' butt are athletes.  Even doing marathons didn't give the me sense of accomplishment and physical effort that was *enough*.  What's totally cool is the look of shock on people's faces when you say "yeah, I did 50 miles over the weekend".
  • Accomplishing something that's HARD.  In a world of lowered standards and consolation prizes, I love how honest and difficult endurance is.  It's HARD and it's WORTH doing.  Especially for someone like me, where not much in my life is hard (right now at least.  After all, at 25 the worst is yet to come right?) I LOVE the challenge.


  • Seeing country and land you will never see any other way.  This is usually the reason I give when people ask why endurance.  And it's partly true.  The other reason I do endurance is the sheer challenge, but most people can better relate to the sightseeing aspect.  If you love the outdoors and seeing the country, how better to enjoy it than from horseback?  Many times endurance rides are held on private land not normally open to the public.  I've seen so much of California, just because of endurance and I love it all. 


  • Doing something so incredible that you can't even make yourself believe you actually did it!  Did I really go 100 miles in 17:44?  Really?  Did that puny, cute arab in that pen really do 100 miles? 


  • Really REALLY getting to know horses and learning the details of management.  As someone who is OBSESSED with the details, this is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of endurance - figuring out the BEST saddle and the BEST saddle pad and the BEST diet and having a REASON for Every. Little. Thing. I do.  I love it.  EVERYTHING I do with my horse has a reason from what I feed, what bridle I use, to how my saddle packs are constructed.  I eagerly devour new research and I'm constantly asking myself how new ideas and knowledge fit into my current management system and what, if any, changes are needed. 


  • Learning to deal with failure.  Sure, you can deny any wrong doing or mistakes and blame the horse for your pulls, and in some cases the horse or bad luck may be to blame (I did a post on this a while back).  However, endurance rewards being able to recognize and learn from your mistakes, and from horses you will learn unconditional love and forgiveness. 


  • You will learn people skills!  (I really really needed this).  Endurance is a small, close-knit group of people and I quickly learned the value of an apology and not to burn bridges.  Endurance is humbling.  Endurance taught me to deal with difficult people with graciousness and respect.  I learned to listen more and talk less.  Endurance connected me with people (like you - my dear blog buddies) and for one of the first times in my life I feel like I belong some where and there are people like ME out there. 
So I want to hear from you - why is endurance the best sport ever?  What motivates you to keep trying even though, perhaps it hasn't been the easiest journey? 

Occupational Hazard

Why is it no one addresses the occupational hazards of English riding?


There's lots of western riding cautions:

  • Grab a horn and lose a finger in the rope
  • Gored by a cow
  • Throw a rope wrong and lose a finger
  • Tripping over your spurs


One thing English does have is a gazillion different designs of stirrups all designed to keep you from getting dragged.  Which honestly, with the plethora of English boot types, seems highly unlikely.


Which is why I would like introduce a never before discussed hazard of English riding.  One I think is much more likely than being dragged.


What if….


And this theoretical only


What if… lived by yourself and…


Before I go on I would like to point out that living by yourself has several benefits.  Such as, you know that all food that is edible is on the TOP shelf of the fridge.  Everything on the BOTTOM shelf is just chillin' there until you get around to throwing it away.  No need to open the container of white beans or pulled pork to observe the mold because you already know it's there.  It's just the trash needs to be taken out before you can dispose of it….and really there is no point in putting ANOTHER dish in the sink before you wash the 2 weeks worth already there….


But I digress.


Keep in mind this is totally theoretical.


What if….you lived by yourself and….it took 2 people to get your ariat fieldboots off?


Yes, maybe I technically wear a "wide" calf and not the "regular", but for $5 used boots can I really complain? 


So, what if…(totally theoretical, you understand) that your only choice was to wear your field boots to bed with the hope that the morning would bring a number of new things, including smaller calves?


Which is a shame because the said (theoretical) rider could probably really use a shower after such a tough ride, which is quite difficult while clad in Italian-made field boots.


Why is it that no one TALKS about this?  Seriously!  It could happen.  Ever heard of a WESTERN rider not being able to get their boots off?  No! Because they wear practical shoes that are not required to fit like second skins. But again, we haven't technically heard about this happening to an English rider either eh?


As usual, everyone has had WONDERFUL comments on my last couple of posts.  I'm saving all your responses to respond to this weekend when I have a real internet connection.  You guys are so smart, so witty, and so insightful – you should have your own blog!  Oh wait, most of you do.  J How did end up so lucky as to have all of the best blog buddies HERE visiting MY blog. Seriously.  Be assured I'm still reading all of your blogs on a daily basis (via google reader which is NOT blocked), even if I'm not able to comment regularly.  Keep up the good work!  My day wouldn't be nearly as entertaining without you. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

First rides

In celebration of season of firsts.....
  • Funder's first LD completion
  • Nicole (Adventures of Arabee) first upcoming completion of LD 
  • My first 100 completion
  • Aarene's first upcoming completion in a LONG time (2 years is like a lifetime right?)
  • Endurance Granny's resolution that this season will be different
  • and all those other bloggers that I'm forgetting (please forgive me) that have special "firsts" coming up.
  • and what the heck - just because it's SPRING and I'm in a good mood! :)
...I thought I would blog on what to expect for first rides.  
As in....this is what to expect for a first ride that NO BODY BOTHERED TO TELL YOU.  
This was a much more difficult post to write than I anticipated.  Hopefully my readers can comment on their own experiences as a newbie endurance rider, whether that was last weekend or 20 years ago.
We will start with a gem from Funder:
The horse you conditioned is not the horse that will come to the ride
  •  The horse you brought to the ride may look like Lil' Miss Pokey Pony that you conditioned from home, but I GUARENTEE you that she will be replaced by a fire breathing dragon the morning of the ride. 
  • Damage control strategy - take deep breathes, thank the heavenly stars you didn't forget your helmet.  This should be a minor issue unless YOU suddenly turn from Miss cautious-want-to-keep-my-horse-sound, to Ms. we-are-going-to-WIN-this-thing.  Things usually improve after the first 1-2 hours on the trail. 
  • My advice - use terrain to your advantage.  I like using hills to slow down my horse to a walk or slow trot. 
I didn't have this problem with my first ride - the horse I conditioned was the horse I brought to the ride - ie my crazy maniac horse I had at home also showed up at the ride.....however this phenomenon was very apparent for Farley's first ride.  Farley is a pokey horse.  During her conditioning she was NEVER as forward as I would have liked and the little pitty pat jog she offered on our conditioning rides was just NOT going to cut it.  I had seen glimpses of greatness so I knew she just needed to be motivated.  And yes sir-ee she was decided she was motivated at our first ride.  I've rarely been in a position to complain about her pokiness since.
Anything slightly irritating about your tack will be a big problem
At my first ride I used a Mcclellan Saddle with an army blanket.  I hadn't figured unless I kept the girth REALLY tight that I would literally lose the blanket out the back.  I spent COUNTLESS minutes on the trail fixing the stupid thing.  On conditioning rides I had had the same problem but at a much lesser degree.  On subsequent rides I accepted the fact I had to ride with a tight girth, but it was definitely a problem I could have avoided my first ride if I had realized that small issues during conditioning rides turn into big ones during real endurance rides. 
  • Damage control:  try not to shoot yourself or others from the annoyance of it all.
  • My advice:  Pack 2 of everything for your first ride so you have an alternative if something isn't working out.  Even if it worked for a conditioning ride....
Whatever your food plans were, they will not work
I really really really liked cliff bars but I was cheap and didn't want to buy them.  My mom offered to try her hand at making homemade ones.  She did a great job, I wrapped in wax paper and dumped into a grain bag that attached to my saddle, along with apples for Minx.  I think I had a grand total of 2 of those bars.  The rest melted and smashed into my grain bag.  My the time I got to the lunch check (35 miles) I hadn't eaten anything substantial since breakfast.  Unfortunately I hadn't packed anything EASY to eat at lunch and nothing really salty.  I ended up eating a piece of sourdough bread with horse electrolytes dumped on top of it for lunch.  Ugggg.  
  • Damage control:  Pretend you are in sixth grade and swap lunches with someone.  Or just mooch off of them.  Play the sympathy card (it's my first ride!) and someone might take pity.
  • My advice:  Pack only that food that requires zero effort to prepare AND eat (for me this means minimal chewing). 
Being too helpful will get you DQ'ed
I was close to missing many of my time cut offs during my first ride because of my commitment to help others along the trail.  I was told many time before the ride that it is polite to stop if someone you are riding with needs to stop.  Coupled with my own tack issues which slowed me down substantially, I also stopped several time to help other people.  As a result I had to BOOGIE through some rough stuff and was constantly worried about time. 
  • My advice:  During your first couple of rides you will have your hands full just dealing with your ride.  Ride on unless you see the person is having real trouble or is hurt, then it's appropriate to stop and ask if you can help.  Otherwise, make sure you keep you and your horse safe for those first couple of rides. 
Your horse will get demotivated and you will want to die
I distinctly remember this.  At mile 40 Minx was DONE.  I was DONE.  It was over 80 degrees, it was HOT, we had gotten lost, ran around like idiots and were faced with a GIANT hill.  Everyone had left and we were on our own.  I was puking by the side of the trail and Minx was bleeding from her nose.  I decided we weren't going to finish and we sat down in the shade to cool off.  After 5 minutes or so we would stagger up the hill to the next shade patch.  I poured the rest of my water over her to help her cool down.  It probably took us 2 hours to get up the hill.  By that time Minx looked markedly better.  At the water stop, the friendly volunteer looked my horse over and said she actually looked OK.  I was in no position to make judgements to I mounted up and decided to walk to the last vet check (mile 48).  I knew I was overtime and decided to try and enjoy myself since evidently Minx and I were NOT going to drop dead. 
People upon finding out it is your first ride will fall into 3 categories
 I'll start with the most annoying person first.
First Category: The drag rider found us about mile 45.  He ordered me off my horse because "she was tired and should think about helping HER out now...".  We went through several ditches of water that came up to my chest.  My boots had (I didn't know it prior to waltzing through the water) glue on soles and after the first crossing my boots fell apart and I walked on the flapping soles.  I finally staggered into the 48 mile vet check and got a bottle of water - my first in 4 hours. 
The drag rider I put into the category of riders, that upon hearing it's your first ride will assume you are in need of advice will force it upon you whether you like it or not.  In this case, I had walked most of the afternoon when Minx was having trouble, I hadn't had water in several hours, I hadn't had food since the lunch check.  I was riding because Minx at that point felt better than I did.  But that didn't matter at all.  He decided since it was my first ride I didn't know better than to ride my tired horse and ordered me off. 
Side note:  BTW I met this rider about a year later and upon recognizing me STILL attempted to lecture me and give me endurance advice even when I politely tried to dissuade him and let hm know I wasn't really interested in being lectured....a year after that I was at Tevis and going to ride the next day.  His advice magically dried up upon hearing I felt ready to tackle a 100. 
I find that this type of person is more interested in overwhelming the beginning with advice and stories of what they have personally accomplished than giving any sort of useful mentoring. 
Second category:  These are people that upon hearing that you are a complete newbie, wish you luck and then try to ignore you the rest of the ride.  I don't' say I blame them.  They have seen it a million times - someone starts this sport with high hopes and dreams, finds out how hard it is and quits.  They don't want to get emotionally invested in someone that isn't going to stick around.  And the newbie can say all they want about how much they love the sport, but the proof is in the first ride.  I don't mind this sort of rider - they are genuine in their wish for everything to go well and are going to wait to give advice until asked and until it will really matter. 
Third category:  These are those wonderful people that if you are lucky enough, you get to meet at your first ride.  They take you under their wing, introduce you to their friends, invite you over for food, and follow up with you afterwards of how your ride went.  They didn't give a lot of advice that first ride - just those essential tidbits.  I was fortunate enough to have THREE of these people at my first ride.  The Smarts, Beth F., and Kathy S.  They would go out of their way to say hi when they saw me at subsequent rides and helped me start to feel part of the endurance world.  Later on, they were sources of valuable advice as I continued on in endurance. 
You will follow good advice that is NOT appropriate for the ride
As a newbie you will have read all the books and asked a million questions.  You will have a TON of good advice to chose from on the day of your ride.  Here's the thing to remember -
Good advice in the wrong situation is Bad Advice
Here's a example of good advice I followed during my first ride that did NOT turn out well
  • Start 10 minutes behind the group in order to have a relaxed start.  This ride had very tight cut off times AND the LD riders started a mere 30 minutes after the 50's.  All I did was put myself 10 minutes behind trying to make cut offs and the LD top riders caught me sooner.
Expect the unexpected
Minx pulled a shoe right before the lunch check.  Fortunately I had cash for the farrier that was there.  She never pulled another shoe, even using the same farrier, the same style shoes, and the same shoeing/trimming style for the rest of her endurance career.  Just one of those freak things.  Expect the unexpected and bring double everything, including cash for unknowns.
The ride will be nothing like your conditioning rides
Accept the fact now and you will be better off for it - endurance rides are *not* like "longer faster" conditioning rides - especially if both you and the horse are newbies.  
You will go faster over rougher terrain than you ever imagined
It's very very difficult to stand by the principle of "ride your own ride" at your first ride and In most cases you will be going faster and further than you were in conditioning rides.  At my first ride I looked around and thought "everyone else is doing this so it must be OK", but it really wasn't.  
Not everything is magical rainbows and fluffy marshmallow clouds
Try to go into the ride with no expectations - Expect to have to do everything on your own, expect to provide your own food and water, expect to eat dinner alone and bring a way to amuse yourself. 
Then, be pleasantly surprised with everyone turns out even more helpful than you thought, you can't believe that ride management is actually providing lunch, AND a million gazillion people stopped to help you on the trail!  
In my experience, the newbies that get hit the hardest with the "but it's completely different from what I thought!" are usually the people with the highest expectations of the sport - that it will be magical, that people will go out of their way to help, and upon hearing that it's their first ride will bend over backwards for them - which in many cases might happen, BUT as we are all trying to ride our own rides too....and just like every other sport there are those rotten eggs... it's best to go in with the most open mind and optimistic attitude possible.  Also keep in mind that endurance tends to attract A-type personalities, strong opinions and OCD people.  Chances are you are one too!  And you know what happens when you get a bunch of A-type, opinionated people in a room....
Dealing with shattered illusions
You may have felt during conditioning rides, that you owned the most wonderful horse who was perfectly suitable for endurance. 
Especially if you were not successful during your first ride, it can be difficult to reconcile this with how horrible wrong your first ride went.
I really struggled with this.  I failed so miserably during my first season.  Minx was going to be off for 6 months while she recovered from injuries related to me overriding her.  I have tears staining my journal pages from this period.  I was very depressed and took my failure very hard.  I had followed all sorts of wonderful advice and it hadn't worked.  I couldn't figure out what the disconnect was between what I trained for and how my rides were turning out.  To be successful it took:
  • being absolutely committed to riding my own ride NO MATTER WHAT for every future race.
  • recognizing that good advice in the wrong situation is bad advice
  • riding and conditioning a non-arab if different riding and conditioning an arab. 
  • Taking responsibility for my ride and my horse's injuries.  As part of this, I went back and apologized to those people I felt like I had been a bit short with during that first ride.  It didn't matter that they didn't exactly treat me with courtesy either (we were all hot and tired), or that in most cases they didn't remember the incident - it allowed me to put that first season behind me and start fresh. 
  • Deciding that even though I wasn't having "fun" *right now*, I knew deep down I loved endurance and I was going to stick with it until it was everything that I dreamed it would be. 
I love endurance from the bottom of my heart and as a result I tend to be the type of person that gets very excited when I find out it's someone's first ride.  It's such a journey from your first ride, so your first 1000 mile mark (and I'm still on that journey) and unbelievably fulfilling.  Even though I knew I wanted to do endurance, my first season was NOT fun, was NOT fulfilling, and was NOT pleasant.  You may find the same - stick with it!  Give it another chance!  Reevaluate and try and again.  Chances are the reasons that endurance appealed to you in the first place have not gone away....and some day you will look back at your fumbling mistakes and laugh - and then share redicule yourselfin public so that others can learn from your mistakes.
Of course - you might be one of those lucky ones that was able to do everything right from the start.  Kudos to you!  Unfortunately that wasn't me....

New Thing #4

It's amazing how many training opportunities there continues to be with horses and endurance. 
Occasionally, at a foul weather ride, I've considered putting Farley inside the trailer to keep her warmer and dryer.  I've always decided not to because I don't usually ask her to spend long hours in the trailer just standing.  I think the max I've ever asked her to spend in the trailer without driving is 1-2 hours. 
A dinner engagement Friday night meant that as an efficient use of my time.....Farley needed to spend 3 hours standing in the trailer while I at dinner, before heading to Salinas. 
What a great training opportunity!  I would get to see how Farley handled the confinement without the stress of completing an endurance ride the next day! 
I checked in on her several times throughout dinner.  After the first hour she started pawing, but quickly settled down and for the rest of the time she slept with one hind leg cocked - just chillin'.  She took advantage of the hay, beet pulp, and water I set up for her.
Options are good!  Based on this, I would be comfortable asking her to spend the night in the trailer if we had awful weather at a ride, especially with handwalking throughout and offering water from a water trough several times throughout the night.  I have a 3 horse slant that I leave open so she has quite a bit of space inside to shift position etc as she needs to. 
Of awful weather I'M probably going to be in the back of the trailer Farley and I will have a discussion of for whom it is more important to stay warm and dry...and as she has a warm, comfy, waterproof blanket (even if it's Minx's and WAY too big) I'm thinking I get the trailer.
 BTW - new/cute thing #5 (and the last thing!) doesn't warrent its own post so I'll stick it here as a foot note....
Farley has never let me approach her laying down.  On Sunday, when I went out to the pasture in Salinas to catch her, she was laying down, asleep with her chin propped up in the dirt.  It was an especially cute picture as the herd on the other side of the fence were carefully watching over her.  I walked up and she half opened her eyes.  She let me rub all over her without trying to get up (in fact, I started worrying something was wrong!).  Finally I decided that nap time was over and told her to get up.  She did without complaint and looked perfectly fine.  Maybe she's finally starting to trust me???????? :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New Thing #3

Travelling companion!
I don't own a dog because it would be cruel and unusual punishment (2nd story 1 bedroom apartment, coupled with 10 hour work days...) so I've settled on cats instead.
One of my cats is a character.  Named Jonah because I'm sure if I threw him overboard my life would be more peaceful, he's certainly "livened" up my life.  He's HUGE, craves human attention, and has absolutely no fear.  Left at home to his own devices he picks on my sweet, older cat named Mickie and may (or may not, as the mood strikes him) reduce my apartment to a pile of rubble as he tears around at top speed, knocking into stuff, ending up underneath my rug in some sort of unidentifiable lump. 
If I leave a door closed (for example - my bedroom) he will attempt to dig underneath of it to get into the room as he fears I might be hiding in there, away from him (which is a pretty good bet - having a cat that must be TOUCHING me at ALL times is a bit much). 
I'm a bit tired of apprehensively opening my apartment door after an extended weekend to see what Jonah has decided to do.  So, I've decided that he will be a travelling kitty.
He's done well on day trips.  I've taken him with me to clinics and lessons 2 or 3 times and he hangs out in the tack room being sweet and adorable.  I keep him on a harness and a leash and we go for walks.  While I'm on horseback he's tied inside the tack room with enough room to go in and out as he pleases. 
This 2 night, 3 day trip to Salinas to coordinate (or not to coordinate) this Cav event was the perfect trial.  I wouldn't be gone for hours like an endurance ride and we could see if this worked....
The trip did not start auspiciously.  I put him in a carrier in the back of the pickup and drove to the stable.  I was in a bit of a hurry and there was LOTS of stuff in the back of the pick up (ie lots of noise).  Poor kitty got very scared and peed EVERYWHERE in his carrier, soaking his fur.  When I arrived at my manager's house for dinner I had a choice - leave him in the carrier or suck it up and put my pee drenched cat in my tack room (where he usually gets to stay).  *sigh*.  Into the tack room he went. 
Dinner went well and 2 hours later I was on the road again.  I kept thinking about poor Jonah in the tack room.  Saddle pads and the like tend to fall off onto the floor while I drive and poor Jonah, already scared because of the whole "in the back of the pick up thing" was probably not happy.
I am such a good cat-mom.
I pulled over and prepared my passenger seat and tossed him in it with stern warnings that he would STAY on his little bed on HIS side of the pickup.  No exceptions. 
He did so very well.  And it was nice to have an companion.  I usually have trouble driving late at night (I arrived at my destination ~12:30a) but having him there meowing at me and looking at me seemed to keep me awake. 
At the event I let him sleep with me in the back of the horse trailer.  He curled up with me exactly like home, once he got the hang of the whole sleeping bag and bivy shelter thing.  On the first day I kept him tied to a tree near the cook with a shelter, food and water near where we were riding and he just chilled out (AFTER trying to climb the tree and scaring me half to death).  The second day he spent in the back of the horse trailer by himself since we were doing some pistol fire and it was scaring him. 
The ride home was similar to the ride to Salinas - he just chilled on his little bed in the passenger seat. 
He doesn't seem to get stressed about travel - eats, sleeps, drinks, and uses his litter box.  He LOVES all the attention from everyone and faced down no less than 3 dogs while tied up to the tree (people were always around to keep an eye on him).  Jonah: 3 Dogs: 0. 
Verdict - I think taking him with me to the right sort of rides and events is doable and it's DEFINTELY better than wondering what he is doing at home while I'm gone.  Now I just have to decide if I want my current cat free zone (the trailer) as furry as my apartment.....

Monday, March 22, 2010

How the vending machine won

I think rider fitness and wellness is well suited to any horsey blog, and especially endurance ones.  There is no denying that rides go better when the rider is in shape and riding to the best of their ability.  The lack of flexibility, strength, cardio all affect our mounts and their ability to be "fit to continue" at the end of the day.
Sometimes the horsey makes up for the riders shortcomings.  That's what happened at 2010 20MT 100.  Farley was in great shape and did way more than her share of packing my fat ass around.
Sometimes the rider shares more of the burden.  That's what happened at 2009 Tevis 100.  Because I was in great shape, I was able to do some foot work and continue to ride well and keep Farley sound "enough" to get her to Foresthill.  If I had been too tired to get off and run, or too tired to stay centered in the saddle, the outcome may have been a bit different. 
Most of the time though it's partnership between the two of us - both of us fit enough for our respective jobs. 
I have a ride in 2 1/2 weeks.  3 1/2 weeks out from 20 MT and I'm still not appreciable fitter than I was then. 
True, I can chalk up most of my lack of fittness to my knee - now, 10 days from injury it feels like it's probably 80% healed.  Enough that I'm not in pain, but if I over do it it's toast.  I'm being a suprisingly good patient.  I'm not pushing it and when I discovered that going on long walks outside of my normal movement for day made it feel worse the next day, I've even cut out my daily walks.  And little by little it's healing.  Now is NOT the time to get impatient.  Another week and I should be able to run and (hopefully) never have another related problem with it!
But honestly - there's a lot I could be doing besides walking and running to maintain fittness.  Pilates, exercise ball, pushups.  But they aren't as FUN as running and without the endorphins of running to egg me on, I. Just. Don't. Feel. Like. It. 
Not to mention my new recliner and Dr. Who/Torchwood has been calling my name every evening. 
To counter balance this whole non-running period I've attempted to watch what I eat even closer than normal.  Because of my size and my decreased activity level, that means I get a piddling 1300 calories a day. 
Which brings me to this afternoon.  I had a long tiring weekend.  Even now, as I've stared in a stupor at my computer screen for the last 8 hours I can't recall one single productive thing I've done today.  The vending machine calls.
The cash (grocery $$ left over from the subway sandwich I had for lunch) burns. 
I'm tired and I'm grumpy, and I'm not able to function.  I need sugar damn it!  And fat!  And screw the diet!
Farley pops in my head and reminds me that my weight limit is 160 pounds with tack.  And according to my weigh in this morning, I have gained back the 5 pounds I lost last month. 
I argue that it was water weight and banish her and head for the vending machine.
Here's the problem. 
I always *think* I want a candy bar, but always always ALWAYS feel like crap afterwards. 
*sigh*  so no candy bar. 
They have popcorn!
Popcorn is whole grain!  See - it even says so on the bag!  And glory be - it's even light butter.  Obviously God wants me to have popcorn.
Plunk goes my 80 cents and into the microwave.
Uggg.  Too salty and fatty, especially as this is my first junk food in a couple of weeks. 
Not satisfying. 
Maybe I should go back for a candy bar....?

New thing #2

Obviously I am a weak person because I'm posting my new thing #2 in the same day as my new thing #1.  *sigh*.  Absolutely no self control. 
Secretly I'm worried that new thing #1 isn't actually that interesting, only entertaining for me.
New Thing #2
I took a centered riding lesson!  I had read the books but haven't really applied any of the concepts.  As part of the event I was/was not coordinating we hired a centered riding instructor (Becky Hart for you endurance people) to teach the classes, and then some of the staff/participants signed up for private lessons.  What an experience!  We really focused on any crookedness in my riding.  I knew I was riding unevenly from the marks I still have on my legs from the 100 - the rub marks are on the back side of my thigh on my left side, and the inside of my knee on my right side.
What was especially gratifying about trying out the concepts of centered riding was how sensitive Farley was.  The instructor remarked several times how Farley would IMMEDIATELY change her way of going (lengthening stride etc), just by evening out my sitting bones.  If I got my seat and my hands/elbows right at the same time, Farley would immediately round her back and move into the bridle softly without me asking specifically for it. 
Some of my specific problem areas -
  • pushing my head forward (need to slide my head back)
  • not grounding my elbows (they are two far forward - especially the right one.  Need to pretend my elbows are hanging from the shoulders to the ground)
  • hollowing my back (breathe through my stomach)
  • going to the left, my right shoulder needs to lead....(push my right shoulder forward as her right shoulder goes forward). 
  • My hands - they don't want to stay closed and they don't want the thumbs on top (tent the thumbs, imagine little birdies).
Some specific tricks I learned were -
  • Moving my shoulders WITH the horse's shoulders.  The seat moves with the back legs, but the shoulders move with the horse's shoulders.  In a circle, the outside shoulder is moving in a longer arc so my shoulder should be mimicking that.
  • Look to the outside ear when turning a corner.
  • tenting the thumb (instead of laying it flat) will give you better and more precise communication with the horse.
  • If the seat bones are uneven, raise it UP to match the other. (My tendency is to try and lower the high one...).
  • At a trot, "run" your feet (mentally more than physically) to match the horse's hind feet.
The biggest trick I walked away with.......practice my canter transitions from the walk, instead of the trot.
At first I was like "WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO!!!!  I am TOTALLY not advanced enough to try THAT!".  
But then it started to make sense to me.  At a trot I was having trouble maintaining my position, was leaning forward, bouncing, hands getting stiff ect.  At a walk I can give effective cues and stay soft.  Also, there's no history of tension of cantering from a walk, so it just might get past the mental block that Farley has developed.  (and that I have developed)
Then I started thinking even DEEPER - especially to the ride I did on the schoolmaster.  When we cantered from a trot, he first paused (half halted) to the point we could have been walking OR trotting, then cantered.  So, if we learn to canter from the walk, it *should* transfer to a trot, with a strong half halt.   
We tried a few and it was very successful.
Some other lesson notes.....
  • She complemented my trainer and said that she must be very good as we presented a very pretty picture.  She was especially impressed that Farley and I had no formal training prior to six months ago.  I think it's always a good idea to get an outside assessment of a trainer/instructor and I got positive feedback on the road we are on.  Whoo hoo!
  • She said I was very trainable and took instruction well.  My regular trainer also says this.  Most of my athletic coaches throughout my life have said I'm very coachable.  Why am I so stubborn and opinionated every where else in my life????????   Something that bears thinking about - being tractable and coachable is a GOOD thing. 
  • She said that Farley looked absolutely sound in the lesson (always good to have an experienced endurance person evaluate).
  • She suggested cantering up hill to build up the muscles in the top of Farley's rump and fill out her hindquarters better.
  • She recommended putting more weight on Farley, especially if I was considering doing Tevis and then Virginia city this year.  Fast flat rides tend to favor the thinner horses, but doing 2 tough mountain 100's favors the horse in good flesh.  I had backed off of the beet pulp and oil a bit this month because she was looking really good.  Starting last night I went back to her pre-20 MT amounts and I'll stick to that unless she starts looking very heavy.
  • When cantering on the trail, especially through sand, it can be helpful to be in a slight chair position - you can better use your seat to help your horse through the sand. 
Overall I felt like centered riding was a very good compliment to my dressage.  As an endurance rider I have LONG stretches of riding where I can practice these exercises which should be fun. 

New thing #1

A weekend of new things.  Since I'm feeling especially uninspired this week.....I'm going to be lazy and only post one at a time.
New thing #1 - firing a pistol on horseback:
There's a saying that you can fire a pistol off of any horse's back....once.  I'm happy to report I managed to get 3 caps and 9 rounds off and Farley did not turn into an uncontrollable moster. 
Earlier in the day I accidentally popped a balloon with my sword and she didn't even flinch.  I thought "whoppee! this ought to be easy!".  (BTW - I apologize now - my mind is mush and my sentence construction is...shaky after a very long weekend).  I ought to mention that in Farley's world popping balloon = OK, making the balloon do it's particular *squeeky squeeky" rubbery sound thing = not OK .  Weird pony.  Any whoo.  I started on the ground and had a family member shoot a balloon in front of us.  Not bad.  He did it again.  I got the gun and fired 2 or 3 shots.  Good girl! 
I asked for the pistol to be reloaded with caps and rounds and mounted up.  I started firing the caps by leveling the pistol off of the right side at an angle. 
Caps went "OK".  Not wonderfully but decent nevertheless.  She was jumping and getting a bit tense, but wasn't giving me much of a problem.
Side note:  I should mention at this point that she had *apparently* stopped worrying about her ear plugs and *finally* was focusing on the task at hand.  I also found out she didn't mind me putting them in and taking them out as much if I did it from her back, instead of on the ground. 
After a *very* short amount of time, I had run out of caps it was time to fire a *real* round (I was using blanks).  Ugggg.  I rode around for a while.  I looked at my father and said "I don't want to do this", then took a deep breath, pulled on my big girl panties and took the shot.  Farley LEAPED to the right, but over all not bad (keep in mind I'm riding her in an english saddle with ONE hand and in fillis irons).  Wasn't that fun.  I decide to dismount and I took the 2 remaining shots on the ground. 
She didn't get worse - still jumped away from the shot and was a bit tense afterwards, but definately under control and not "losing it".
I asked for 6 more rounds and mounted back up.  I fired 3 more shots from the side and her reaction was the same each time.  A leap, some tenseness.  She wasn't getting worse, but she wasn't improving either.
An onlooker suggested that I fire in the air for my next round.  I did.  Straight up into the air. 
Amazing improvement.  She startled a bit, but it was a much more muted reaction.   Apparently this is where I should I started.....The concussion from the shot, coming from the side was probably a bit much for her to take in at first.
I decided to take the next shots standing still, firing straight up into the air. 
I had been firing from a walk, figuring that with some forward motion any tenseness would work it's way out instead of turning into a stone stature only to EXPLODE moments later.  :) 
The first shot she tossed her head but didn't move.
The second shot she bobbled her head but remained relaxed.
Whoo hoo!  I have a cavalry horse! 
I should mention this is the first time I've ever fired off of ANY horse's back.  I've always been too much of a wimp.  So this was a first for me AND Farley.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Going, Gone - Book review

Note:  Some time ago, Laura Crum and her publisher made an offer to fellow bloggers with active horse blogs – if we would review Crum's latest book – Going, Gone – we could have an advanced copy to review.  Whoo hoo!  Below are my thoughts.


It's refreshing to read a fiction horse book written by a horse person.  The horses don't uncanningly come to the human's rescue in un-horse-like ways (they behave like horses), they don't gallop everywhere (they trot, walk, and sometimes gallop when there's danger), and there's not the pony-child "mystical" bond that keeps everyone safe.  Gail McCarthy's son, Mac, wears a helmet and is on a pony rope when crossing a busy street.


This was my first Gail McCarthy mystery and Crum's 11th.  I had a difficult time keeping reality (Laura Crum and her horses as described in an ongoing blog) separate from the fictional story of Gail and her horses. The thoughtful way this book is written is much like her thoughtful blog posts. The horses that enter the story are wonderfully developed and "real".  I kept having to remind myself that although the horses described in the book are modeled after real animals (that she talks about in her blog)….they are fictional accounts of those horses. 


Distinguishing between the story and real life pleasantly preoccupied me for the first 2/3 of the book.  Part of this is because it starts out as a rather ordinary story that could BE reality.  A family vacation, a choice of when is the right time to retire a horse – rather mundane things that go on in most of our lives.  Don't get me wrong – this is part of the charm of the book and I enjoyed reading it over a few days as it was easy to pop in and out of as I went about my day – but it was only when the protagonist decides to do something slightly illegal (are there degrees of illegal?  I like to think so…) in the last 3rd of the book that I was irreversibly sucked in.


And by "sucked in", I mean invested in the story to the degree that I couldn't stand to read it word by word, sentence by sentence.  I think because the first 2/3 of the book was so real and ordinary, I really believed in the characters, and if something bad was going to happen to Gail, there was no WAY I could handle the imagery of actually reading it. 


I do this with movies/tv shows too.  If something scary is happening, I hit the fast forward button and watch it without sound, on fast forward.  Once I know what's going to happen I rewind it and watch it normal speed with dialogue.


The last third of the book is intense, complete with a description of a horse chase that had me on the edge of my seat.  I could literally taste the fear and desperately wanted everything to turn out OK.  I think the reason the chase seen was so real to me is because Gail was worried about the same things I would have been worried about – the things that unless you are a horse person writing a chase scene, aren't quite captured.  Galloping down hill, dealing with mud, a low branch, the sudden stop and almost flying over the horses's shoulder, dealing with a fatigued horse who isn't exactly conditioned to go flying up and down hills in the mud, and worrying about injury.   


Overall an excellent read made even more enjoyable by illustrations throughout by the author of the blog "mugwumps".  As a first time Gail McCarthy reader, I would have been interested in the telling of the back story and stronger character development but, probably because it's part of a larger ongoing series, wasn't deemed necessary.  Overall a good "Sunday afternoon" book that is a comfortable and satisfying read.  I'll be passing this book on to another horse lover and looking up Gail McCarthy in my local library. 



For her own good

Farley is not amused with her new (very cute) earplugs.

She wears them anyways. Not that she couldn't get used to pistol fire
noise, but (just like my mother always said) she only gets one set of
ear drums and when she's 20 and we are still hitting the trails, she
needs to be able to hear the bear so that she can take care of us

Sorry Farley. Mother knows best. I'll make you a deal - anytime you
wear plugs, I will too. Look at the bright side, I don't make you
wear a helmet!

Anyone else have horses that wears earplugs? I'm using the soft
squishy foam balls. I wanted the ones that look like stoppers, but
they didn't have the right size. Do they eventually stop shaking their
heads and walking around like sullen, drowned rats with their noses
poked out and their ears folded back?

Check out my blog - Boots and Saddles!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Practicing.....

Below is an excerpt from an article NOT about horses, but fit so perfectly for a post I've been contemplating, I wanted to post anyways. 
I've taken out the references to the activity he is referring to and added in [horses] instead.  See if you can guess what he's talking about....
Start excerpt
I often get puzzled looks from folks when they learn why I started learning to [ride horses] in the first place.  People never expect the response that I first took an interest [in horses] because I love they way they smell (I am not the only [rider], though, who would offer this reason).  Whatever sparks your initial infatuation with [horses], though, you must periodically find new ways to renew and deepen your relationship with [horses] over your lifetime if you are going to achieve genuine success in your [horse] life.  This works much in the same fashion as a marriage; it requires consistent work to keep things on track and occasionally special effort to rekindle and revitalize the relationship.  The thrill of a new romance by its very nature must fade away.  I regard [] success not in the achievement of particular goals or accolades but in the week-in-and-week-out process of personal growth for the rest of your life.  When you look at [horses] this way, you can see that it can be a very serious business with profound spiritual and emotional overtones (on both individual and social levels). 
End excerpt

Does anyone have any guesses of what Jim Wood is talking about? 
Originally the article was about Fiddling.  The article is called "the Practicing Fiddler" and was published in "Fiddler Magazine".  As some of you may know, I have fiddled longer than I have ridden. 
I think his words apply to any activity that you stick with over the long haul, although I think music and horses are the two activities that tend to provoke the strongest emotional ties. 
I think that's why I'm at a loss for words when people ask the inevitable questions:
On finding out that I'm a fiddler:  "Are you really good?"  - whether or not I'm good is beside the point.  After playing for 16 years I'm not professional so I'm obviously playing for other reasons than "to be good".  In fact, improvement in my playing is WAY near the bottom of the reasons I play.
On finding out that I spend 4 hours a day at the stable:  "So you love horses?" - I have not idea how to answer this question.  It's like asking a couple that have been married for the last 10 years and hearing that they have a date night and saying "so you love your husband?".  It goes so much deeper than that and saying I "love" my horses doesn't even scratch the surface of my commitment. 
Horses, for me, are a daily commitment.  I do it when I don't feel like it, and I do it when I'm so in love with Farley I want to sleep in her pen.  I'm not married, but it's what I imagine married life to be - I have horses because a very long time I ago I fell madly in love with them.  Years later, I'm still committed to that relationship and even when I don't feel like it, do those things that will make the relationship work.  And sometimes, as I drive up to the stable, I have so many butterflies in my stomach for the sheer joy of going to see my horse, I can barely stand it. 
Here's the next paragraph of the article.  I'm not going to sub words this time, but I'm sure you can see how this also applies to the equestrian life:
Start excerpt
If you accept my proposal that learning to play should be an ongoing process, then the first and most important order of business must be to establish a solid foundation on which to build not only you instrumental technique but also your musical life.  I tell all prospective students that a successful start to fiddling requires a three-pronged attack.  First, find a really, really good instructor (which may take some time and effort, but do not settle for less than excellence) and go religiously to a weekly lessons.  (Given the choice, an hour is vastly superior to a shorter lesson period because you need time to review and analyze previous assignments and have time to go over something new for the next week; it is like tending a fire and then throwing on a new log.)  The second part of my three-part strategy is to go home and practice, practice, practice.  Every one's life gets a little cluttered now and again, and some periods will be more productive than others, but do all you can to prepare for your next lesson.  The more you practice, the more you will learn during your lesson.
End excerpt
The third prong of being a successful fiddler (according to Jim Wood) is to go and and play with other musicians as often and regularly as you possibly can.  I would liken this to getting involved with a specific sport, or being a part of a regular group of riders.
Some more information about Jim Wood:
Jim Wood is a five-time Tennessee Fiddle Champion who performs on a fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and guitar with his wife Inge.  Their CD "Jim and Inge Wood in Concert: September 24, 2005" was given a rave review in the Fall 2006 issue of Fiddler Magazine.  For more information on recordings, concerts, and workshops, please see Jim's website at
The article from which these excerpts were taken from was first published in Fiddler Magazine, titled "The Practicing Fiddler", written by Jim Wood.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


It is NOT a good sign that I am so soon posting an addendum....
My brain is so frazzled from writing that GINORMOUS post.....

Forgot to post the most important caveat of all:  Keep in mind that everything I posted regarding conditioning is for someone (*me*) who only cares about finishing....if I ever top 10 a ride it is totally by accident.  Because I have limited access to trails it just isn't feasible for me to plan on anything but a completion. 
My goals are centered around miles and longevity of my mount so, if you are looking for guidelines that will get you a top 10 at Tevis, I am NOT your girl.  Not that I don't think it's an admirable goal - I just can't even consider it in my situation. 

It's that time of year...

I needed to make some changes to the Laura Crum book review that was scheduled to post today, look for it in a couple of days.

 In the meantime, it looks like everyone this time of year has the same questions - spring is here and where is my horse's fitness?  And how do I get it where I want it?
I've been privately e-mailing with some of you and I think one thing we can ALL agree on is that there isn't any perfect, published plan that we can follow and at the end of 9, 12, or 16 weeks have a horse fit and ready to go for (pick your distance) ride. 
Good, I'm glad we all agree, because that's probably the last thing we'll all agree on for the rest of this post.
I would like to stress that this is a GUIDELINE only.  While this GENERALLY works for Farley and me, even I don't follow my own guidelines all the time.  What will work for you and your horse will GREATLY depend on the type of terrain you have, how you manage your horse (pasture, boarding etc.), what type of rides you are planning and what your goals are (completion only, top 10 etc.). 
My purpose in posting this is to maybe get others thinking about their conditioning programs and develop something that will work for THEM and their schedule.
Believe me - I struggle with the same thing everyone else does - my horse is boarded and can't self exercise, I'm doing all the housework and cooking etc because it's just me in my household, and I'm a salaried employee working 50+ hour weeks and I'm never technically off the clock......and even with all that it is STILL POSSIBLE TO DO ENDURANCE.  You just have to be careful.  And know your horse.  And make decisions that are the best for you and your horse. 
To tell you the truth, I'm a bit nervous putting this out in public.  Now I understand why there's not a humongous amount of what I would consider "good" training plans for endurance out there, because most of this is based on knowing your horse.  Each person's conditioning plan for endurance is so personally.  That being said...I think there is so value in sharing our conditioning plans so maybe we all learn something?
So with all those caveats, here's what works for Farley and me.  Warning this is going to be LONG.
Also - if anyone is interested in an excel document of how many miles and minutes, as well as average paces for all our endurance rides for Farley since her very first LD (2008) (both the graphs and the hard data), let me know and I'll e-mail it to you.
General Guidelines
This is different from my guidelines I used with Minx.  Minx took more miles to get into condition and keep that condition. 
The biggest secret in endurance is how much we DON'T ride our horses, compared to what *I* as a beginner *thought* I should be riding to do 50 miles.... at least for goals of finishing.   I spend a LOT of time with Farley but really don't ride her very much.  That's why I started dressage - it's so different from endurance I feel like it's a way to get more saddle time with a minimum of wear and stress on her.  
For an LD, I stopped worrying about the miles and the pace, and the speed and focused on one thing – training.  In my experience a "typical" horse needs no additional conditioning to complete an "average" difficulty LD besides a 10-15 mile ride twice or so a month in addition to just regular riding and schooling and couple times a week.  
This is what my training schedule would look like:
  • 3-4 slow walks, hand jogs, or arena schooling focusing on training during the week (up to an hour per session).  
  • 2-3 times a month a trail ride with walk and trot up to 3-3.5 hours.  Anything between 2-3 hours would be helpful. 
  • I personally wouldn't be worried about mileage.  I do all my riding (and running) by time only.  I think that when conditioning saddle time is more important than actual mileage.  
  • I personally do NOT do too long weekends in a row.  If I did a 3 hour conditioning ride, the next weekend I'll do something different.  Maybe a cow clinic, maybe a bareback ride around the stable, maybe a long walking trail ride with a friend.  I do NOT go out and do another endurance paced trail ride the next week.  (there are always exceptions, but that's the rule of thumb I try to abide by).
Another note – anytime ALL my rides go as planned and I get in and ALL the mileage I think I *should*, then I've probably overridden my horse.  It's no coicindence that I only started to complete rides once I got a second horse and didn't have enough time to ride both.  So now I just do a lot of jogging and hanging out with her - not many what most of you would consider "real" rides.
Keep in mind, more often than not, first rides are horrible.  I had a very fit horse (I thought) for my first 50.  It ended much like a lot of my fellow bloggers stories.  It was horrible and I struggled with guilt and self doubt afterwards.  I did NOT pace right, she was not well trained, she was stressed, I struggled to meet cut off times because I had tack issues on the trail, had to stop and waste time taking care of them.  I let myself be carried along by other riders and did NOT ride my own ride. 
What changed between my first ride and my completion a year later was NOT more riding.  It was more training and a determination that I would RIDE MY OWN RIDE no matter what.  
My rule of thumb is not do ANY speed work until a horse has a year of successful completions.  You should be able to do ALL your trail work at a walk and trot and still be ready for LD/50 rides.  There's enough for the horse to worry about it's first year just learning to be an endurance horse. 
Some experienced people who are focused on going long miles and lots of years with a horse advise never going over 10mph at any point during the year of LSD and even beyond. 
Regarding the canter, If you want to work at the canter etc., I would save that for your arena schooling days.  I personally wouldn't ask for it on the trail.  BTW – I didn't canter Farley for the first 2 years I owned her.  (a bit of an exaggeration, but not much). We walked and trotted because she bucked quite hard going into the canter.  Dressage has fixed that and now we canter, but I didn't need to canter regularly in my conditioning to finish my first LD, my first LD multi, my first 50, or my first 50 multi. 
So what about moving up from an LD?  
Here's what I do.  
  • Do some 2-3 LD's 4-6 weeks apart
  • continue to do the SAME prep the rest of the month that you did to prepare for your first LD….
  • Chose a 50 ~6 weeks from your last LD as long as everything is going well.  If you sense your horse is a bit tired, delay your first 50 6-8 weeks out....
  • Continue to do the SAME slow prep during the week with a couple of longer trail rides (seperate by at least a week or 2) of 3-4 hours. 
  • Go and be successful.
This is also how I prep for a 100 (I just have 1 completion so take it with a grain of salt...) except I did 50 milers as my prep rides and continued to right lightly in between.  I also spaced my 50 and 100 a little further apart - 8-10 weeks instead of 4-6. 
Summary of my advice  
Lightly ride 3-4 days a week.  I would alternate hand jogs, one hour trail walks (mounted), and arena schooling/dressage.  For one week after the 50 miler I would only do hand jogs and mounted trail walks (maybe, depending on horse and horses's experience).  Two weeks prior to a 50, (as long as it was AT LEAST two weeks AFTER the LAST 50) I would do a walk trot conditioning ride of ~3 hours.   All depending on the horse.
A real life example
Some background - Farley is boarded in a fairly small, dry paddock.  I love running so dismounted and running with Farley is a plus.  This is Farley's 2nd FULL season, but technically her 3rd.  Here's a basic timeline of what has happened.
  • Novemember - bought and started to slowly condition (5 mile walk/trot)
  • December - bowed SDF tendon (minor bow, immediate treatment, never lame)
  • March - cleared by vet for regular work
  •  October - first LD
  •  November (early) - LD
  • November (late) - first 50 (actually a 55)
  •  December - first LD multi (4 days)
  • February - first 65.  Completed but....Ended up NQR.  Initial bow showed signs of strain.  Vet cleared her for walk/trot only for 4 weeks.  This was the last time there's ever been anything related to the bow....)
  •  May - 50 mulit (2 days)
  •  August - first 100 (only completed 68 miles.  Pulled for reasons unrelated to any previous injury.  Fatigue and a rock bruise)
  •  October - 50
  •  November - 55
  • February - 100 (a completion!)
Analysis of periods of interest
Here's what my journey has looked like - from taking Farley to her first LD, to finishing my first 100. 
First of all, realize that until April of 2009, when I say "did the canal 3-4 times a week" was really inconsistent.  I still had Minx and at that time was doing endurance rides with her, so Farley got pushed to the back burner much of the time.  There were weeks she didn't get ridden, and weeks she only got out once or twice.  Starting in April 2009 I was much more consisitent. 
2008 March - October
  •  I took 8 months to prepare for my first LD.  What did I do?  I rode 3-4 days a week on a 5 mile stretch of canal bank, at a walk and trot.  Farley was still bucking at the canter transition so that was a no no for me.  I was scared of the arena (one of those irrational fears) so 3-4 days I week I mounted up after work and did the canal.  About twice a month we would trailer out and do rides up to 3 hours at a walk and trot in the hills.  In early September, about 4 weeks before my LD, I did a 4 hour ride in the hills, where I covered about 15 miles.
First LD
  • First LD went well.  I felt like she was adequately prepared for race conditions.  I had originally planned on doing 2 days of LDs, but pulled from Sunday's ride when I realized she was a tired afterwards.  Even though I came in first, I did not go fast (it isn't a ride that awards placings for LDers so there's not that many people and it's not competitive) and my pace was right on target (I think about 7mph overall?)
Preparing for my first endurance ride (55 miles)
  • I rode her lightly for about a week between the October and November LD.  The rest of the time she had off.  After the November LD I promised myself NO MORE LD's.  She was SO STRONG.  She was an idiot child most of the race and I did things like stay 60 minutes at the 30 minute hold to start preparing for the 50.  I had 3 or 4 weeks between this LD and my first endurance ride.  She got ridden lightly for 1-2 weeks (maybe got out 5 or 6 times on the canal, walk/trot). 
First endurance ride (55 miles)
  • She completed it and completed it well, but ideally I would have pushed her first 50 off until December.  I rushed her by asking for this much, but it was the end of the season and I knew I wouldn't have another chance until April of the next year. (Patience Melinda!)  She was tired afterwards, and I was a bit nervous about her bow.  She wasn't lame, but I just felt like I should have waited.
Preparing for the multi-LD
  • I was riding Minx mostly, so she got out exactly.....ONCE in the 4 weeks between the November 55 and the multi day in December......
First multi-LD
  • Ideally I would have done my first 50 here and skipped the one in November, but I wanted to ride all 4 days (Death valley is a long drive for me), so I knew I would be doing LDs here......looking back I should have picked 2 of the following races:  November 55, December multi LD, 20 MT 65 - instead of doing all 3.  Live and Learn.....She did really really well at this ride.  Was totally prepared for it.....looked stronger and stronger each day.  On day 4, the Duck tried to convince me to go on and do the 50 after I was done with the LD....but I didn't want to push her (I already knew I was pushing her....) and my achilles was about to rupture (or at least felt like it).
Preparing for my first post-50 mile race
  • Here's where I really screwed up.  I should have done a 50 in spring instead of doing a 65 8 weeks after the multi. January she didn't get ridden at all.  February she was ridden 2-3 a week, with one longer hill ride (3 hours) 2 weeks before the race.
First post-50 mile ride (65 miles)
  • Finished strong, was mentally and cardio-wise ready for the race.  The bow got grumpy.  All those sandy rides when we were conditioning in hills......doing too many rides and too many miles too soon.....I was lucky there was no permanant damage.
Preparing for First 50 multi
  • March - slow walk/trot on advice to the vet on canals only (good footing/level)
  • April - Minx died so Farley's training got much more consistent......I still hated the arena. 
  • April and May:  Started hand jogging 3-5 miles with her 2-3 times a week, still riding 5 miles on canal 3x a week (depending on jogging schedule), trailered out and rode in hills 2-4 hours twice a month (so probably 3 times during this time period).
  • During this time I ended up having to travel at 25% for work.  I was gone 1 week out of 4. 
First muti 50 (2 days)
  • Could not have gone better.  Was mentally and phycially there.  No more issues with bow.  Happy horse.  (BTW - 20 MT 65 2009 was the last time the bow has ever caused a problem.)
Preparing for first 100
  • I had 8 weeks.  She got 1 week off after the multi day.  She got jogged/ridden on canal 2-3x a week walk/trot during the week.  I rode 3x on the Tevis trail, ~20-35 miles apeice, with the last pre-ride occuring ~3-4 weeks before Tevis.  2 of the prerides occured during the same weekend, so 3-4 weeks prior to Tevis she did a total of ~45 miles of Tevis trail over 2 days. 
  • In the 3 weeks prior to the Tevis she continued to be handjogged and ridden on the canal during the week, but that was it.  I started experimenting with cantering in the arena.
  • Still gone 25% of the time.
First 100 (made it 68 miles)
  • Attitude on the trail was good, but once at the 68 mile vet check (1 hour hold) obviously fatigued and starting to stiffen up.  Problems compounded by a rock hitting her leg on the trail near the 50 mile point that was causing intermittent grade 1 lameness.  Pulled.  In retrospect - if I hadn't charged up the second canyon at a trot (I thought I was going to miss a cut off), worn front boots (so the rock injury didn't occur), AND didn't ask her to canter into the chicken hawk check (because I thought I was going to miss the cut off), we might have been OK.  It also could have been that she needed another 4-6 months of conditioning before she was ready for her first 100. 
Downtown and brining her back up....
  • Month of August she got off
  • In September, started dressage.  For the first time, she is being ridden most days of the week with 1-2 days off.  (arena work mostly)
  • Did not do much trail work - mostly focused on dressage, with some very slow (walking) trail rides with family intermittently through the end of September and first part of October.
  • Lost motivation to go jogging.....
  • October/November was the last time I had to be gone for 1 week out of the month (work).
  • Did an "easy" 50 in late October/early November (I had to really push to make a cut off, but overall, the ride was a good, easy pace).
  • Did a 55 in Late November.  Was so ready to GO!
  • Continued to mostly focus on dressage.  Did one or two long trail rides (walk/trot/canter) during December.
  • Did long slow work (mostly walk) on trail with family over new years.
  • In January it rained.......and rained and rained.  We didn't do much....
  • First week of February we did one short, muddy, rainy trail ride.  And then it rained and rained and rained.
  • 2 weeks before the 100, did a faster conditioning ride (walk, trot, canter, with a lunch break) ~25 miles in ~5 hours in the hills to test our gears and make sure the boots still worked.
  • Dressage and (very few because of rain) rides on canal. 
100 mile ride (first completion)
  • Went very very well.  Definately prepared for the work, didn't lose weight, no problems with tendon, no filling in legs, no tack issues, great attitude.
  • Melinda resolves to start jogging with her again on a regular basis.
 Whew!  That was long.  Feel free to post away in the comment sections or your own blogs...I look forward to hearing what works for other people.  I am fully prepared for new ideas and suggestions!